A federal court today ruled in favor of people using file-sharing applications such as Napster and Kazaa, notorious for illegal distribution of music files.

The ruling was a blow to the Recording Industry Association of America, which has been combating users and developers of this software because of its potential to illegally distribute copyrighted material.

In essence, the ruling states that merely making music files available for sharing does not constitute copyright infringement. The case, Atlantic v. Howell, centers on Jeffrey and Pamela Howell, a husband and wife that had Kazaa installed on their system. Mr. Howell asserted that the software itself had sought music files stored on his system and put them into Kazaa’s shared files folder.

Indeed, it was unclear to the court which Howell (if any) had designated the files for sharing. On those grounds the court rejected the RIAA’s position that having such software on a system constitutes infringement. Similar rulings have come down this year in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and last September in California.

But in Electra v. Barker, a New York court on March 31 ruled that having such files “might” constitute infringement, even if no one has copied the files. The court stated that “an offer to distribute” could be enough to constitute distribution and violation of the copyright holder’s rights. I suppose it could be thought of as akin to “possession with intent to distribute.” Apparently the courts are grappling with differences between the terms “distribution” and “publication.” The issue remains an open question.

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They should have filed suit for the posession of those mp3 files, which (in the absence of the physical media) is a clear sign of illegal activity, rather than the fact that pirate 2 pirate software was installed.

But maybe they also did that (I don't know the details of the case) and this is only a partial ruling.
The software itself is indeed not illegal, its use as a tool for copyright infringement however is.
If you wrote it correctly the case was thrown out only because the person actually responsible for the infringement could not be decided, not because there was no infringement.

Thanks Jwenting- That's how I understand the facts, and what made this story interesting. What constitutes infringement is NOT converting music to MP3 format, for example, but WILLFULLY sharing those MP3s with others. And in this case, it could not be proved that anyone had done it willfully.

khess: good post on tech.blorge.com. I agree totally with your position (and have done my share of repetitive buying on subsequent formats). I'm confident that digital will be it for a while.

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